Tag Archives: life

Nuggets of Hope 6 – Members of Christ’s Body

Good morning. Welcome to Nuggets of Hope.

These brief daily reflections are intended to bring hope and encouragement during the COVID-19 crisis.

During these times when self-isolation is being imposed on us to keep us from getting sick, many feel cut off from others. This is hard for all of us. Today I want to look at the key truth that no matter how isolated from others we may feel, those who belong to Jesus are in fact organically connected.  We are connected to Jesus and to each other.

In a very well-known passage of Scripture, the Apostle Paul wrote these memorable words

For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body,
though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV

First of all, we are connected to the whole human family. It’s important to acknowledge this. Scripture affirms that all of us are descended from one original couple. This makes us one family. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. Remembering that we are connected to the whole human family helps us to pray and serve all people – simply because they are made in God’s image as we are.

Secondly, those who belong to Jesus are always connected to Him, no matter the circumstances. I recently re-read a summary of the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a Jew who became a Communist who became a Christian who became a political prisoner of the Romanian Communist government. During his two bouts of imprisonment, together lasting over fifteen years, he spent three years in solitary confinement. It was his relationship with Jesus that kept him sane during those times. He would meditate on the Word of God – large chunks of which he had memorized – and to keep himself sane he composed a sermon each night and preached it to himself. The power of the Word of God kept him connected to Jesus. Our life comes from Him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. We are organically connected to Him by our faith in Him, by the power of His word that sustains us and renews our minds, and by the power of His Spirit living in us. 

Thirdly, those who belong to Jesus are also connected to each other. Paul says that we are members of one another. Just last night, Marion and I spent some time in a video chat with two dear friends who are part of our weekly home fellowship and Bible Study group. We can’t meet in person right now so we met through the blessing of technology. I’m looking forward to connecting with the whole group in this way on Thursday evening. But even without technology, the Holy Spirit connects us to everyone who belongs to Jesus. Believers in Wuhan, in South Korea, in Israel, in Pakistan, in Italy – they are our brothers and sisters. We can strengthen one another through prayer.

This is so important. Those who are persecuted for their faith often testify to how much it means to them to know that they are being prayed for. The same is true in the face of this virus, and the fear it brings.  Stay connected. Remember that you belong to Jesus. Remember that you belong to the human family, and bring the needs of your neighbours and your leaders before God. Remember that you belong to the Body of Christ. Your brothers and sisters around the world are praying for you, and you can also pray for them. There may be other practical acts of service that we can perform as well, but whatever our situation, we can always pray, and meditate on His living word, and in so doing we stay connected to Jesus and to each other.

God bless you.


The river

This summer I have done a lot of cycling on the paths by the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers. I do it for the exercise, but I also do it because being outdoors helps me to pray.

I have been without work for four months now. This has been a faith-stretching time for me, as I have been waiting for God to supply me with work, but it has also been a season of spiritual refreshing. This has been especially true in recent weeks as Marion and I have been devoting ourselves to the word of God and prayer to an extent that we have not done for a long time. It has been deeply challenging and also fruitful. But I know there is much more that the Lord wants to do in me – in fact, I feel as though I am just touching the edge of what he wants to lead me into. The earth is coming into a pivotal time, a season when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, so that only those things which cannot be shaken will remain. To fulfil God’s purposes for us so that we come forth in glory through the upheavals that are coming, we will need to be deeply anchored in God and full of His life. The other day the Lord reminded me of this quite powerfully during one of my bike rides.

About ten days ago Ottawa had a major thunderstorm after several weeks of drought. The storm was accompanied by heavy rains. The Rideau had gotten very low, and many of the shallower areas were choked with algae and water weeds. But the day after the rain, there was noticeably more water in the river, and the parkland along its banks didn’t seem quite so dry. The rain wasn’t enough to truly end the drought, but it helped. I had been praying for rain, so I was thankful.

A couple of days after the rainstorm, I was pedalling along the bicycle path by the Rideau River and I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

See this river. See how low, and polluted, the water is after this season of drought. It is a picture of your soul (mind, will, emotions). My river of life flows in you but it is at a much lower level than it could be, and it is polluted by other things. The other day there was a rainfall. It was an answer to your prayers, and you were happy. The rain was good, but the river is still low. In the same way, you must not be content with the refreshing you are now experiencing. It feels good, but do not conclude that this is all you need. Let this time of refreshing stir up your desire for more. Your soul needs to be filled to overflowing with my river of life. When my river of life is flowing at flood tide in you, like a raging torrent, it will purify all uncleanness and bring life to you and many others. 

Reflecting more on this, the other day the Lord spoke to me using a different analogy. He showed me that much of my life as a Christian I had been playing in the shallows of a huge swimming pool – like a little child splashing in the shallow water on the beach – and he is calling me to humble myself, recognize that I need much more, and apply myself to going much deeper in him.

God, I don’t want to be satisfied too easily. I choose to be content in you, but at the same time I do not want to be easily satisfied with the measure of the Holy Spirit that I have received. I am refreshed by the streams of living water that you have been pouring out, but I want more. You say that the Holy Spirit is a deposit, a down payment on our inheritance. I want to maximize that deposit – make the most of it – so that you will reward me with much more on that Day. Even now, Lord, I want as much of your revelation as I can have in this age, so that I can testify with grace and power to the new life that you are prepared to give to anyone who is truly hungry for you.


Don’t be satisfied with the appetizers

Amy Winehouse, an enormously talented and deeply troubled singer, was found dead in her apartment yesterday at the age of 27.  Though no official cause of death has been cited, family and friends agree that her early demise was undoubtedly the result of years of binge drinking and drug abuse.

This iconic young woman was part of my children’s generation.  I found her story compelling in its stark tragedy.  Here was a passionate and profoundly damaged soul who took the wrong prescription for her inner pain.

The real tragedy, however, is not that she died young.  It’s that she died without Jesus.  Had she laid her grief and torment on His shoulders, she could have been a free woman, a daughter of the resurrection.  Instead, she died a miserable and seemingly pointless death.

In our church we often talk about how Jesus is the answer to life’s problems, the one who brings joy, peace and restoration to our souls.  And of course all this is true.  Had Amy Winehouse met Jesus and surrendered her life to him, she could have found rest for her soul, and she could have lived a longer, more peaceful and productive life.

She would, however, still have died.

“Of course”, you say.  “Everyone dies.  That’s just the way things are.  Death is natural.”

No, it’s not.  Death is a usurper and an intruder.  We were created to be eternal beings.  That’s part of what it means to be created in God’s image.

In the Christian cultures of the West, the traditional view has been that death is the moment of liberation, the time when the souls of the faithful, who have had their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus, are set free to fly away to their eternal home.  This way of thinking is often seen as a Christian belief, but it’s actually contrary to the Biblical message.  The Bible nowhere states that heaven is our home.

More recently, a view has sprung up that when Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God coming on earth as in heaven, he was saying that what God really cares about is giving us a better life on this earth, in this age.  According to this view, the good news of the Kingdom is that we can have transformed lives — forgiveness, peace, healing and prosperity — and transformed communities — social justice and even renewal of the created order — now, in this age.

Both these views distort the Biblical gospel, even though they both contain a kernel of truth.  It is true that there are many benefits in this age for those who have put their hope in Jesus, and that communities can experience a significant degree of transformation when the gospel is widely accepted.  It is also true that those who have put their hope in Jesus can be confident that they are going to be with Him when they die.  But neither of these truths represents the full scope of the salvation for which Jesus offered up His life.  What we need to ask ourselves is why Jesus went to the cross. What goal did He have in mind?  Why exactly did He willingly die such a horrible death?

He didn’t die so that at the end of our earthly pilgrimage we could leave this “vale of tears” and fly away to our true eternal home.  Neither did He die so that we could have a somewhat improved life, with signs and wonders, joy and peace, and improved communities, on an earth where death still prevails.

He died so that we could share in His resurrection, have glorious new bodies, and live forever with Him on a fully restored earth that will be full of His glory and ruled over directly by Jesus.  When Jesus rose from the dead, even though He was still the same person, His risen body was so glorious that His disciples were afraid of him and at times they didn’t even recognize him.   We are destined for a degree of glory that is difficult for us to imagine.  Let’s not become distracted by waiting, and settle for thinking that our true destiny must be in this age after all.

On the same day that Amy Winehouse died, Isak Wall and Allison Brailsford were married.   They are a wonderful couple who love living life with Jesus, and their wedding was a joyous celebration.

While the bride and groom were occupied with photos and the guests were waiting for the wedding feast, appetizers and cold drinks were thoughtfully provided for the wedding guests.   The appetizers and drinks were great – I was glad they were available.  They helped to fill the gap between the wedding ceremony and the feast.   You could think of them as a sign or foretaste of the feast that was to come.  They were not, however, the feast itself.  When the feast began, the appetizers were forgotten.

When we speak of the gospel as though it’s all about the joys of living life with Jesus in this age, or the joys of being with Jesus after we die, we are focussing on the appetizers instead of the wedding feast.

Is our life improved by coming to Christ?  Of course.  We have a new identity, and the Holy Spirit lives within us giving us peace, joy and power.  But the New Testament is clear that these things are signs of what is to come – like the appetizers before the wedding feast.  Not only that, our life is also made more difficult by coming to Christ.  The gospel does not exempt us from suffering in this age – in fact, for some it leads to a life of increased suffering, and for all of us it means laying down our own will so that we live for the purposes of the One who called us.  But in the age to come, all that will be done away with.

Don’t get me wrong – the sacrifices are worth it.  But if we try to tell people that they should come to Christ because their life in this age will be so much better, we are not preaching the Biblical gospel.

So why is the reality of eternal judgment, the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things no more than an afterthought in most presentations of the gospel?  If we believe these things, why do we so rarely talk about them? Our culture is so preoccupied with the works of man in this age that it’s almost as though even in church we are a bit embarrassed to talk about the age to come – or maybe we just don’t really believe it’s all that important.  But that’s not how Paul saw things.  He said that if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we have been deceived and are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

We had a guest from Cuba at our Life Group meeting this week.  Orlando spoke powerfully of six foundational truths, listed in Hebrews 6:1-3, that every disciple of Jesus needs to have built into their lives.  He told us that in his church-planting ministry in Cuba, every new believer is taught all six of these things.  The fifth truth is the resurrection of the dead, and the sixth truth is eternal judgment.  In other words, of the six foundational beliefs laid out in Hebrews, fully one third have to do with the end of this age and the life of the age to come.

Should disciples of Jesus seek to influence the world around them?  Of course.  Should we be confident that if we die before the Lord returns, we will be with him? Of course.  But neither of these is our hope.  Our hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the Kingdom that Jesus will establish openly on the earth when He returns.   The other blessings are foretastes,  signs, appetizers.   They’re good, but they aren’t the wedding feast.

Maybe we need to rethink our priorities in how we present the gospel.  Maybe we need to talk more about the feast and less about the appetizers.


In memory of Rob Hall

When I wrote in a recent post (Reality Check) that life is short and fragile, I had no idea that within a couple of weeks, Rob Hall’s untimely death would offer a graphic reminder of the truth of those words.

But there you have it.  A good man has gone to be with Jesus, leaving his wife Kate, three children, and an army of family and friends around the world who clearly miss him deeply but who just as clearly were inspired by his life.

I never got to know Rob well.  I am much better acquainted with his father Ken, who was a mentor and spiritual father to me for a couple of crucial years about a decade and a half ago when I was walking through an agonizing yet transformational period of transition.  I will always be grateful for Ken’s wisdom and unassuming yet authoritative shepherding which provided an anchor for my life at that crucial time.  Marion and I and our four children were part of Ken’s church for a season, and I got to know Rob a little bit, partly through talking with him directly, but mostly through my chats with Ken, who evidently loved his sons dearly and had fathered them well.  At that time Rob was a young man in his early twenties, and was already involved in co-operative community gardening, combining faith with practice in compelling ways.  Before long Marion and I moved to Russell to be involved in planting a DOVE church there, and I never saw Rob again.  I knew from Ken that he had been serving as an associate pastor in the Cambridge Vineyard but did not realize that he and his wife and children had left for mission work in Zambia.

News of Rob’s death earlier this week, just a  few days shy of his 39th birthday, came as a shock.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Ken and Lois, and of course Rob’s wife Kate and their three children.  The web site and Facebook page that have been created in memory of Rob have drawn my attention like a magnet, opening my eyes to some of the core passions that fuelled Rob’s life, and introducing me to a vast network of people who knew and loved him.

A few things I have learned about Daniel Robert Hall :

o He loved Jesus, his wife Kate and their three children, people, and God’s creation.
o He was an authentic servant of God, a good listener who knew how to draw out the best in others.
o He could speak truth into situations and get a hearing because he could be truthful without being arrogant, and because he really cared.
o He served with integrity and passion wherever he went.
o He had a bold, entrepreneurial approach to life.
o He had a great sense of humour.
o He loved the King and his coming Kingdom.
o He echoed the values of the Kingdom in his living here and now.
o He had counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, and invested his life willingly in God’s enterprises.

A few things I have learned (or been reminded of) this week about living as a servant of God :

o God places high value on integrity and humility, and loves the heart of a genuine servant.
o We often have more impact on others than we know.
o Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).
o All of us in a fallen world are under the sentence of death; therefore pain is inevitable.
o Pain is not the worst thing that can happen. Having a deadened heart  (living without vision, purpose, or knowledge of God’s call) is far worse.
o Jesus gives life to the dead.  Those who trust Him do not need to be afraid of death.
o Hold those you love closely, treat them well, and entrust them to God fearlessly.  They don’t belong to you and you don’t know when you may be required to release them into the hands of their loving Father.
o Our hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things.
o Those who love Jesus are called to serve the poor in His name and do works of mercy and justice on the earth.
o Everyone needs to know that Jesus loves them.
o Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Rob, thank you.  I am deeply grateful for your example.  Your life has had more of an impact on me than you would have guessed.  You are now one of the great cloud of witnesses, spurring me on and calling me forward to finish my race well and to live faithfully, my eyes on the King and his coming Kingdom.


Reality check

Last week a young Canadian named Jordan Morrison was killed in the aftermath of a bar fight while on vacation with his parents at a resort in the Dominican Republic.  He was 19 years old.  Marion and have four grown children, all in their early adult years, and I can’t imagine how we would feel if one of them were killed.  Although it’s difficult to know exactly what happened, it appears that Morrison was a relatively innocent victim, who was beaten up because he had defended a girl that he was with.  Families go on vacation for respite; this family encountered tragedy instead.

The other day a Pokot woman died of starvation in Kenya.  The Pokot are a mostly-nomadic tribal group who have been severely affected by a devastating drought in their traditional lands.   The story made the news in Kenya, and was drawn to my attention by a Kenyan friend.  I watched an NTVKenya report on the woman’s death.  The newscaster didn’t try to hide his frustration with the Kenyan authorities, who from his perspective have been distracted by squabbling and have done little to help the Pokot cope with the famine.

This afternoon one of my colleagues told me that a childhood friend had just experienced the death of his mother.   She was in her seventies, so her passing was somewhat less of a surprise, but it still hit home.  My colleague is dealing with the reality that the friends of his childhood are losing their parents to death.  I remember realizing, when my father died a little over four years ago, that my life was passing by and my generation would be next.  This realization became more acute when my mother died fifteen months later.  Life is short and fragile.

A couple of weeks ago a young Ottawa-area couple and their 2½-year-old son were sent to hospital after their car was struck by another vehicle whose driver had gone through a red light.    The mother was eight months pregnant.  Thankfully, the parents were released from hospital soon afterward and the unborn child appears to be unharmed, but little Luca continues to fight for his life.  His pastor reported to the Kanata EMC news that his condition continues to improve gradually.   Many are praying for his full recovery.

Last night Katie Wilson went to be with Jesus.  Katie is the fifteen-year-old daughter of a wonderful Christian couple from the Belleville area.  Her older sister is one of my daughter’s circle of friends.  During her time in hospital her sunny disposition and indomitable faith provided a wonderfully positive influence on all who cared for her.  Many people had been praying for her healing, but God’s answer was to allow her to pass into the presence of Jesus.  Her parents, brother John and sister Jacqui take comfort in their confidence that she is with Jesus, but their grief will undoubtedly be deeply felt.  Her passing provides a sobering reminder that life is fragile, and although our choices do make a difference, ultimately we have no control over how we will die or how long we will live.

Reality check: life is short, and you are going to die, unless the end of the age comes first. So am I.  So is everyone.   We don’t get to choose how, or when.  We only get to choose how we are going to live in the meantime.

Some people say that death is a natural part of life, that we should just get used to it.   Still, no-one who is healthy wants to die.   That’s because we were not made for death but for an eternal relationship with God.  God has put eternity in our hearts.  Death is an intruder, the unavoidable result of Adam and Eve’s decision to choose the way of independence from God – but it’s not the final word, because Jesus rose from the dead, as a sign of the great harvest that is coming.

Faced with the inevitability of death, many choose a basically self-focussed life, reasoning that if they are going to die they might as well have as much fun as they can have while they are alive.  Others choose safety, seeking to build a fence around their lives to protect themselves from harm – another form of self-preoccupied living.

I remember what it was like to be preoccupied with myself, but ever since I encountered Jesus as He really is, my priorities have changed.  I’ve become convinced that He holds the keys to life as it was meant to be lived.  I’m far from a perfect man, and I still have to make the daily choice to turn away from self-preoccupation, but I am no longer able to live for myself – it just doesn’t satisfy.  My priorities are wrapped up in Jesus and His coming Kingdom.  Like Luca’s father, I can’t afford bitterness  and regret – I want to live in the light of Jesus’ mercy.  Like Katie, I can’t afford self-pity – I want to live in the joy that Jesus gives daily, even in the midst of pain, to those whose hope is in Him.  I know that one day He will return to restore all things.  I don’t know exactly when that day will come, but when it does, those who love Jesus will see Him face to face, Katie will have a restored body, no-one will die of starvation anymore, and two year olds won’t be killed in car accidents.  In the meantime I want to spend my life preparing the way for my King, reflecting His priorities in my living.  This to me is the way of victory.  It’s the only way to honour the faithfulness of those who have lived and died with their eyes on Him.   It’s the only way to honour His sacrifice for me.  It’s the only way to truly live.


What I really want for Christmas

“All I have to look forward to is death.”

This bleak assessment came from the lips of a middle-aged woman, quoted by her daughter who was frustrated with her mother’s negative outlook on life.   The daughter’s concern was understandable.  No-one wants to see their loved ones depressed and preoccupied with death.

Yet from one perspective, her mother was speaking the truth – a truth that we all prefer to avoid.  No matter how we like to dress it up, avoid it, or talk around it, all of us will die – and none of us (or very few, anyway) like the idea.

Our dog Cookie, now in her fourteenth year, is getting close to the end of her life.  She is slowing down, but so far as I can tell she is not preoccupied with worries about when and how she will die.  She lives for the moment, and most of her moments are spent sleeping.  Her thought life seems to consist mostly of dreams of chasing squirrels, cats or motorcycles.  This is interspersed with twice-daily thoughts of kibble, begging at the table whenever there are guests, and brief excursions to sniff out the daily news as she explores the “markers” left by other canines on her leisurely strolls down the streets of our neighbourhood.

Young children also live for the moment, and their innocence is part of their appeal.  But as we grow to adulthood, the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve start to become conscious of the oppressive reality of death.  We long for a life free of worry and care, but try as we might to shut the awareness of death out of our minds, it always lurks in the background.

There’s a very simple reason why we find death oppressive.  We fear and hate death because we were intended to live forever with God and the people we love.  Death separates us from God and the people we love most, and reminds us of our weakness, our dependency and our nakedness before God.  This is why we don’t want to die or even think about the prospect.

The good news of Christmas is that our life doesn’t have to end in death.  Yes, we will die, but Jesus came into the world to pay the penalty of our sin so that those who trust Him could be forgiven, have peace with God, and be raised up to live with Him in His eternal kingdom.  It really is that simple.

The catch is that while this gift is completely free, it’s not cheap.  The only way to receive this amazing gift – by far the best Christmas present ever given – is to face your failures, turn away from your sins (beginning with your pride and independence), admit that it’s not all about you and your projects and plans, face the fact that you are not the center of the universe, stop trying to run your own show, and surrender control of your life to the Messiah who was born in a stable, who died for you, and who alone is worthy to rule.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had dreams of taking my guitar on the coffeehouse circuit.  One of my guitar-playing buddies got me a gig at a Chinese restaurant (no kidding !) where my assignment was to play and sing in the bar for three hours unamplified.  Unless you’ve tried, you have no idea how hard this is.  I found it no easy task to hold the attention of a drinking crowd with an unamplified acoustic guitar and no microphone.

My buddy, however, wanted to help me out, so he taught me a song that was a big hit at the bar.  The song was called “In Heaven there is no beer”.  The gist of it was that since beer was not allowed in heaven, we might as well enjoy it on earth.

At the time I simply found this song amusing, but  I now see that it was actually making quite a significant statement about life.  Whatever you think about beer-drinking, one of the key messages of this song is that for people who like to enjoy life, the prospect of going to heaven is actually not all that appealing.  That’s because in heaven as we usually think of it, you don’t actually get to do anything.  You just sit around on a cloud and play a harp all day.

Isn’t it a relief to know that this is not what God actually has in mind for us?  The reason we don’t get excited about floating on a cloud forever is because God never made us for that.  We want to live forever on the earth because that is actually what we were made for.  His amazingly good plan for us is to restore the earth through the man He has sent to be our Saviour – Jesus, the Messiah, who came once to sacrifice His life so that we could be forgiven and have peace with God, and who is coming again in glory to rule openly as King.

Everyone is looking for hope, but not all the things we hope for are reliable.  Sometimes – many times, in fact – we fix our hopes on things, events or people that end up disappointing us.   Jesus is not like that.  Jesus is faithful.   No-one who reads the New Testament with an open mind and heart can doubt that he was the best, most faithful man who ever lived.  He is the hope of all the earth, and His free gift of eternal life is available to all who are willing to humble themselves and surrender to Him.  That includes you, my friend.

What do I really want for Christmas?   The deepest desire of my heart is that my friends, family and workmates – all those in my life who are living independently of Jesus, or who are looking elsewhere for hope – might discover once and for all the best present of all, the only Christmas gift that really counts, the gift that makes everything else worthwhile.   His name is Jesus, He truly is the reason for the season, He came to earth for you, and He is coming again to rule and to reign.  Life and death are in His hands, and to those who trust Him, He gives hope that nothing can destroy.

Merry Christmas!


Making the most of the rest of your life

I was talking with some friends at work today about our plans for the future. The conversation turned to retirement and how we want to use the years that remain to us. We all agreed that since life is short and none of us knows when we are going to die, it’s important to stay active, to have goals and interests, to make the most of the years we have left.

Like my friends, I want to stay healthy, to use my talents and abilities to the full, to enjoy life, to bless my children and grandchildren.  But because I look at life through the lens of eternity, I see all of these as secondary goals. I do want to make the most of the rest of my life, but my horizon is eternal – and that makes all the difference in the world.

For me, having an eternal horizon means at least three things.

The first thing it means is that my life will not end when I die, so I don’t need to fear death. Yes, death is real, but humans are spiritual beings, not just physical ones. The hunger to understand what lies beyond death is part of what separates people from animals. My dog Cookie doesn’t seem at all concerned about the meaning of life, but people are different from dogs. In the ancient words of King Solomon, considered the wisest man on earth in his day, God has planted eternity in our hearts. We were originally intended for eternal life, which is why most people are not content with 70 or 80 years followed by the prospect of nothingness.  The wonderfully good news is that Jesus, the Messiah, has conquered death and made a way for those who have placed their hope in Him to have eternal life.

Having an eternal horizon means something else as well.  It means that I am accountable to God, who sees all actions and knows all motives, for how I use the time I have left.  It’s very common nowadays to say that a good life is whatever makes you happy.  God’s word says something different.  Ultimately, it is not all about me. In fact, the sooner we learn that, the better, because that’s where all the misery started.  The Deceiver tricked our first parents into thinking that if we could be independent we’d be better off, but they soon learned that a life in which they were in control brought only misery and disappointment. It has been the same way ever since. When we live for ourselves, the pleasures – though real – are temporary, and they bear bitter fruit. Having an eternal horizon means recognizing that lasting joy can only come about when we surrender to our Maker and discover life as it was meant to be lived, with Him at the center.  If this is a new idea to you, I can tell you that it is much better than doing life on your own. I’ve tried it both ways, and I can’t imagine going back to life without God.

Finally, having an eternal horizon means that I don’t have to be in a hurry. I can face the prospect of death knowing that I am at peace with God and that I have all the time He gives me – no more and no less. Since I am looking forward to an eternal kingdom, I can enjoy the time I have left without worrying about how long it will be.  It’s not up to me anyway.  A classic story about St. Francis of Assisi illustrates this beautifully. Francis was out hoeing his garden when someone asked him what he would do if he knew he was going to die by sunset of that very day. His famous answer was that he would finish hoeing his garden. Francis could respond this way because his whole life had been lived as an offering to his maker, so he had no need to fear death.

Do I want to make the most of the rest of my life? Of course – doesn’t everyone? But when you understand life from God’s perspective, suddenly the stakes are higher, the timeframe is very different, and the rewards are infinitely better.


Circle of life?

Recently several of my friends and colleagues have lost loved ones.  My own father and mother died in 2007 and 2008, and my wife’s parents are in their upper 80s and dealing with diminished capacities.  All of this has prompted me to reflect again on life, death, and eternity.

As we move from childlike innocence to adulthood, all of us have to learn to reckon with events over which we have little or no control, events that threaten our sense of order.  When a loved one dies, your country is suddenly plunged into war, you lose your job and cannot pay your bills, or your health is threatened, it can feel as though your life is sliding from order to chaos.

From what I can observe, our dog Cookie doesn’t spend much time worrying about why things are the way they are, or what will happen to her tomorrow.  But humans are different from dogs – we have a built-in drive to make sense of life in some way.  So, we try to come up with explanations that comfort us and give meaning to our lives.

One very common way of coping with the reality of aging, illness and death is to see them as simply an inevitable part of “the circle of life”.  We live; we grow old; we die.  The ancient Greeks added the belief that death was a welcome release for the soul, which they saw as having been trapped for a time in the physical realm.  In this view, death is not an enemy, not something to be feared or even resisted, but simply a natural and even welcome part of the life process.  All living things come from the earth and must go back to the earth; when your time comes, you die, and your soul goes to some sort of (hopefully friendly) afterworld.

This way of thinking is quite ancient but still very popular today.  It has the appearance of wisdom, and with the addition of a belief in heaven it can even masquerade as a Christian outlook.  But although there are elements of truth and wisdom in this way of looking at life, at its core are two beliefs that are totally contrary to Christian faith: the view that death in its proper time is a friend, not an enemy; and the view that we all automatically go to some state of bliss after we die.

In contrast, the Bible clearly portrays death as an enemy, not a friend.  In Biblical thinking, humans were made for an unbroken relationship with God, and death is an unwelcome intruder, the tragic consequence of our first parents’ decision to turn away from God towards independence.  It is true that believers in the risen Christ do not need to fear death; but that’s not because death is our friend, it’s because Jesus has risen from the dead to conquer our enemy.

But why does this matter?  Does it make a difference what you believe about such things?

Yes it does.  Beliefs have consequences.   If humans are just souls trapped inside bodies for a while, then by killing someone you are really doing him a favour.  Then Hitler was doing those 6 million Jews a favour by incinerating them; he was just liberating their souls from their bodies.  You can see where that type of thinking leads – abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide all become acceptable and even compassionate choices.   If, on the other hand, we were  made for an eternal purpose and we have an eternal destiny in a renewed and restored earth,  then each human life has eternal value.  This has huge consequences both for how I conduct my own life and the degree of respect with which I treat the lives of others.

Probably all of us who have watched a loved one die slowly can relate at some level to the idea of death as a friend.  I have to admit that I was relieved when my mother died, because I felt she had suffered long enough, and I was confident that she was going into the presence of the Lord.   I am so thankful that she met her Redeemer before she died and that she is in His presence today.  However, I did not see her death as simply a natural culmination of her life, but rather as an expression of humanity’s broken condition and our need for a Redeemer; and while I was in agreement with the family decision to let her die without trying to bring her back to life artificially, I could never have agreed to any form of euthanasia because I do not believe that her life was mine to end.

I believe that my life is headed somewhere – it is a journey with a destination, not a circle.  I believe that Jesus rose from the dead to set me free from the power of death and the fear of death, and that regardless of what trials I may face in my life,  I have a glorious destiny in a renewed heaven and earth.  I also believe that I will one day face the one who made me and redeemed me and give an account for what I have done with my life while I am on this earth.  I’m thankful that I don’t need to fear judgment, since Jesus has paid the price for my sins, but I want to live in a way that brings joy to the One who suffered so much for me.

Life is not a circle but a journey with a destination.  All of us are headed somewhere.  Whether we are headed for glory or misery depends on our response to the One who gave His all for our freedom.  The price has been paid, and the gift of eternal life has been purchased for us, at an incredibly high price – the lifeblood of the only truly pure man who ever lived.  What we do with that gift determines our eternal destiny.  The value we place on the lives of others – especially the weak and helpless – says much about the value we assign to His sacrifice.

Over to you …


Two redemption stories

A brilliant young aeronautical engineer is the only survivor of a tragic car accident that is caused by his own carelessness.  The accident causes the deaths of seven people, one of whom is his fiancée.   Grief-stricken and full of remorse, he concludes that life is no longer worth living, and he makes preparations to end his own life.   But before he ends it all, he somehow wants to make atonement for his guilt.  Driven by a sense of poetic justice, he takes increasingly radical steps to change the lives of seven other people before he dies.

His own brother receives a new lung lobe, a child services worker receives part of his liver, a young boy is given a bone marrow transplant, a junior hockey coach receives a new kidney.  In a particularly moving segment,  the man arranges for ownership of his home to be transferred to a single mom and her children, and he tells her his only requirement is that she live abundantly.  Last of all, he arranges for a blind man to receive his eyes and a young woman with a diseased heart and a rare blood type – the same as his own – to receive his heart after he takes his own life.  Tragically, he falls in love with the young woman, but goes ahead with his suicide plan anyway, knowing it will give her the new heart that she needs in order to survive.

Marion and I watched this movie the other night.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll recognize the story.  If not, I won’t give away the title.  It’s a substantial and powerful movie, beautifully crafted, touching on significant themes – guilt, grief, remorse, sacrifice and generosity.  In spite of all these positives, the movie left me feeling unsettled.

Although his sacrifices make him seem noble, our hero’s actions reflect several beliefs that are quite disturbing in their implications.

  • If there is too much suffering, life is no longer worth living.
  • I have the right to decide whether my life should end
  • If I’ve messed up really badly, the only way I can find peace is by somehow paying the bill for my sins.
  • If I do enough good, somehow I can make up for the bad things I’ve done.

Now consider a different script.  A man who is totally innocent of any wrongdoing allows himself to be betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, and crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Driven only by love, he takes on the burden of guilt for the whole human race in fulfilment of an ancient prophecy.  Because of his willing sacrifice, all who are tortured by the burden of guilt and remorse may be set free forever.  The gift of abundant, eternal life is made available freely to anyone who asks.

Some of those who call themselves his followers miss the point of his sacrifice, and build yet another religious system to keep people in bondage.  Even so, the power of his sacrifice continues to change lives in every generation.  Those who truly understand what he has done for them live lives of radical generosity, amazed at the gift they have been given, and end up changing billions of lives as they wait for the final unveiling of God’s Kingdom.

This story – the real story, one that actually happened, although the final act is still to come – has very different implications from the movie script.

  • Redemption is a gift, paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice.  I can’t buy it or pay for it.  Fortunately, I don’t have to.
  • I can live free of guilt, remorse and condemnation.
  • Life is always worth living in spite of suffering.
  • My life belongs to God – it is not my own.  In this discovery is perfect freedom.

The movie is a powerful but ultimately tragic story.   Its horizon is this life, with no thought of eternal consequences.  No doubt those who received the gifts given by our hero would be deeply grateful, but in a sense their gratitude would be misdirected because in the end it is only God who can set people free in the ways that really count, even though he often uses people.   Not only that, the hero of the movie could have been set free from his guilt if he had known the hero of the real story, and then he wouldn’t have had to kill himself to help people.  He could have stayed alive, lived a life free of guilt, and made an even bigger difference – an eternal one.

The real story has power to set people free forever.

Which story do you prefer as a script for your own life?